People’s Church, in partnership with the Congregation of Moses and Temple B’nai Israel, two synagogues in the Kalamazoo area, has been busy helping to resettle seven Afghan families who are seeking asylum status in the United States. These families began arriving in November 2021 and through February 2022. Below is a summary of what our team of 30+ volunteers have been doing to assist these families as they resettle in Kalamazoo.
The help we have provided over the last 10 months includes:
Groceries and Household Items:
We paid for groceries until the family’s food assistance application was processed and their Bridgecards became available to them. In some cases, this took more than a month. We also purchased needed household items that had not been donated. When the families arrived their households were set-up and furnished with donated items that had been collected at People’s Church and Prince of Peace Church, but this was a bare minimum of what they needed.
Clothing, Toys, TV’s and Car Seats:
We needed to immediately find clothing, as most of the Afghans arrived with very little, some with only the clothes they wore on their trip from the military camp. We “shopped” at free clothing resources and thrift shops for each member of the families – 45 total. We were fortunate to receive free winter jackets, boots, snow pants, gloves and hats from Warm Kids, a local non-profit, but we needed to purchase some winter clothing items for the adults. When members of our team put out a request to their friend networks and on Facebook, we had a great groundswell of clothing donated. Because so much clothing was donated, we recognized the need to set up our own “free store”. Under the leadership of People’s Church member, Colleen Van Slambrouck, a free clothing store was established at the Congregation of Moses.
Colleen recruited many volunteers to sort the clothing to make it manageable to find correct sizes and keep the “store” organized. In addition to the free and thrift shop clothes we also needed to purchase clothing items that need to be new: underwear, socks, pajamas, slippers, etc. Other items that needed to be procured, either by donation or purchase included age and gender appropriate toys for the children. We purchased eight car seats and booster seats. We needed to locate people who were willing to donate a TV and ended up buying 3 TV’s and getting 4 donated. We paid for internet set-up and monthly charges until a member of the family was working and earning money.
Improving the condition of their rental homes and apartments:
Our volunteers have completed projects such as building shelving in a large pantry, fixing electrical light switches and fixtures, putting up extra towel bars, purchasing and installing ceiling fans. etc. These are things that are often difficult or impossible to get landlords to do with the current worker shortage.
Our transportation team provides rides for adults to English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and other destinations and shuttles kids to school when their bus is canceled, which was at least once or twice a week throughout last winter. Twenty-nine children from the families we are so-sponsoring are going to Kalamazoo Public Schools; the elementary kids go to Lincoln, middle school kids go to Milwood Middle School and the high schoolers attend ESL classes at Phoenix H.S. Other volunteers take families grocery shopping and to Loaves and Fishes for twice monthly food donations. Free diapers are picked up once a week at the Diaper Bank at St. Luke’s Church.
Medical and Dental Appointments:
Our medical and dental team has made and shepherded our Afghan family members to over 100 medical and dental appointments so far. Many have needed X-rays, blood draws, MRI’s, surgical procedures, PT and OT, appointments with specialists, etc. Navigating our medical system is difficult when you speak English, it’s very challenging when you do not!
Under the leadership of People’s Church member, Vicky Konzen, our volunteers have provided in-home ESL lessons and tutoring and we have purchased workbooks for the adults. Some on our team volunteered at the summer ESL classes sponsored by The Literacy Council.
Drivers Training and Finding Cars to Purchase.
Four of our volunteers have been devoting many hours to helping people learn to drive. The first task is to pass their written test to get their driver’s permit and then ultimately to pass their road test and get their driver’s license. We have also helped our first drivers to find a suitable car that they can afford to purchase and helped them find automobile insurance and get their new car registered with the Secretary of State.
We need more Volunteers!
Helping our “new Americans” from Afghanistan is a very rewarding experience. We know the help we provide for them today will get them started on a good footing that will help them be successful in America in the future.
Our team could definitely use more volunteers. Sometimes we are stretched pretty thin. Areas we could really use help in are transportation, taking families clothes shopping at our free store or other free resources, grocery shopping, ESL tutoring adults, tutoring a few children (five to seven year-olds) who are being mainstreamed and not in the ESL contained classrooms. These kids need help with “homework” and being read to. We also need help with dental appointments as there are so many. Our Afghan friends did not have dental care before arriving here and many have multiple cavities and other issues that need to be addressed in multiple appointments. If you are interested in helping/volunteering, please call or email Ann Feldmeier, 269-720-1649, email@example.com. We need you!